Rethinking Anarchism

Building the Army of Production
December 12, 2010, 6:21 am
Filed under: Analysis | Tags: , ,

“The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown.”

-Preamble to the Constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World

Since the beginning of the labor movement, we have used military metaphors to describe our struggle against the capitalist class. In many ways, the fight we are engaged in really is a class war- workers fighting bosses. At times, the class struggle has even developed into an armed struggle. However, class war usually differs from actual war in one crucial respect. In a conventional war, two fully-formed armies meet on the battlefield. Strategy is a matter of planning battles. In the class war on the other hand, only the capitalist class has an army. Organizing means building the workers army, the army of production. Our army is inherently stronger because of our position in the system of production. Our task is to organize this power. The bosses seek to prevent us from doing this through a permanent counterinsurgency operation. In this blog post, I’d like to lay out a few ideas on the current state of one particular organizing effort, the IWW, and propose some next steps for building the army of production.

In year 2010, the IWW is once again feared by the capitalist class as a fighting union. Wobblies on shopfloors across the world deserve to take a minute to congratulate themselves, we are a threat again. But our work is far from done. As far as we have come, there is a long road ahead of us. We need to reflect on how we have come this far, and plan out our next steps.

Our successes in the last few years were built on a foundation that was laid over the last decade. At a time when the labor movement was at a low ebb, disoriented by the realities of globalization and the service economy, a handful of visionary workers picked up the banner of the IWW, and began organizing their own workplaces. The results were mixed, but lessons were learned. Now, we have distilled the lessons we have learned about shopfloor organizing in to a coherent training so that they can be easily passed on to others. With the help of our organizer training program, our campaigns start out leaps and bounds ahead of where we were ten years ago. With a mastery of the nuts and bolts of organizing, our organizers are capable of waging struggles against the bosses, sometimes involving hundreds of workers.

So what is the next step, and how do we lay the foundations for it now?

We need to build on our strengths, and eliminate our weaknesses. That means getting better at building Wobblies, developing workers who come to us out of an interest in organizing as leaders in the workplaces. It also means getting better at winning our fights against the bosses. These goals have component parts we can work on:

1) Initial contact. Workers have to be able to find us when they are looking for an answer to the problems they face at work.

2) Training and Support. We need to be able to coach workers through the steps of organizing. This is easiest when we have someone geographically close to them, and someone who knows their industry or workplace very well.

3) Fighting the bosses. Beyond the nuts and bolts of organizing, we need to be able to bring overwhelming pressure to bear on the bosses so that we win our fights. This means having a better organized, faster, bigger, and more creative organization.

4) Membership development and retention. We need seasoned organizers to stick around, become senior leaders in the union, and help develop another cohort of organizers. This means that we need to have a healthy, supportive internal culture.

I have three proposals for strengthening the union in these areas.

1) Functional branches. We need to incubate branches of the union in all the major cities so that workers everywhere will have someone to turn to when they decide to fight back. We should strengthen regional communication and collaboration, and develop a standard procedure for building and maintaining a branch.

2) Industrial Networks. We need to develop networks that support organizing across particular industries, as well as tailor the IWW’s message to particular groups of workers. Millions of workers are just waiting to be asked to join a union. Let’s ask them.

3) Creative organizing. It’s time to step outside the NLRB election process. We keep losing- both in conventional terms, and also more philosophically through a growing dependenence on the state. This violates our basic principles as a revolutionary union. We need to figure out a way to build a sustainable presence on the job based on direct action.

These three goals are general. If we want to achieve these objectives, we need to adopt more specific, concrete building blocks that would allow us to reach these goals. One idea would be to pick new specific organizing targets which would allow us to grow through shopfloor organizing. Another possibility would be to attempt to replicate the size and capacity of our largest branches all across the union. We currently have around 50 groupings of Wobblies across North America. If each of these groupings reached a size of 100 members in 5 years, we would have 5000 members in North America alone. This would more than double our current size.

These are just a few ideas, I hope that this can start a union-wide conversation about what next steps we want to take. Whether you agree with these proposals or not, it’s clear that we stand on the cusp of making substantial gains in building our organization and increasing the power of the working class. It’s time to act.